Galef and LaValle Introduce Joint Legislation to Combat Childhood Obesity

May 3, 2006

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D, 90th A.D.) and Senator Kenneth LaValle (R, 1st S.D.) have teamed up to fight childhood obesity by introducing legislation in both houses that would restrict the availability of junk food in vending machines, school stores, and a la carte lunch lines within the public schools.

A.10729 / S.7367 would require New York State public schools to offer healthier options to students throughout the school day. Any food containing more than seven grams of fat, two grams of saturated fat, and any trans fat would be prohibited from being sold on school grounds. This legislation would also ban soda from being sold on school grounds.

The legislation would affect all public schools in the state or private schools receiving state funding. The only exemption would be the National Lunch Program, which follows guidelines applied by the federal government.

The bill, which was developed based on the success rates of other states and in reaction to high rates of childhood obesity, would also place limits on the sugar content, amount of carbohydrates, and packaging size of snacks and beverages. “Many schools offer snacks and meal selections that are high in sugar, fat, trans fat, and sodium,” said Galef. “These foods offer little nutritional benefit, create poor eating habits, and lead to obesity among the students.”

“Obesity has become a serious health problem among young children throughout the country. It is important that we, as a society, recognize the problem and do everything in our power to encourage good nutritional eating habits,” said Senator LaValle. “By removing junk foods from our schools and replacing them with nourishing alternatives, we can help children become more aware of food choices that promote healthy lives.”

Galef also pointed out, “While fried food and sugary beverages fly off the shelves, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products are in short supply. It is not uncommon to see a high school student making a full meal out of a bag of potato chips and a 20 oz. bottle of soda. In this case, the nutritional value is minimal and the fat, transfat, carbohydrate, sugar, and caloric intake are extremely high.”

The rate of childhood obesity in New York State is currently 20%, an increase of 15% since 1970. Type II diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes and commonly caused by an individual being overweight or obese, was once unseen among children. Today the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that one in three United States children born in the year 2000 could be diabetic by age 18.

“It’s time for school nutrition to be discussed in Albany, and the American Heart Association applauds Assemblywoman Galef and Senator LaValle for championing this cause,” said Paul Hartman, New York State Director of Advocacy for the American Heart Association. “We need to address the types of foods and beverages that are available – and marketed – to our children in schools. If we don’t act today to curb the poor nutrition and inactive lifestyles of our children, we’ll be faced with a generation that fails to achieve the same life expectancy of their parents. Failure to equip our children with a roadmap for healthy living will result in kids who utilize their math skills to calculate their healthcare costs, and put their science knowledge to work in an effort to understand the diseases that are cutting their lives short.”

The CDC indicated that in 2003, United States taxpayers spent $75 billion on medical expenses due to obesity-related illnesses. Obesity not only leads to Type II diabetes, but can also cause various types of cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, hypertension, sleep apnea, and asthma, as well as depression.

“Obesity causes cancer and the fight for a healthy weight has to begin when kids are in school,” said Michael Bopp, New York State Director of Advocacy for the American Cancer Society. “This plan is one of the strongest in the nation and will greatly help parents raise healthier children.”

“The causation of this epidemic is multifaceted and requires major societal interventions,” said George Dunkel, Executive Director of the American Academy of Pediatricts, District II. “It will not be solved in the school lunch room, but we cannot ignore that schools are a focal point for not only teaching the three “R’s”, but also for promoting beneficial societal behaviors like civics and healthy life styles.”

A.10729 / S.7367 would also require all contracts between vending or food corporations and the school district to comply with the provisions in this legislation by 2007. If the school district is involved in a contract that is subject to periodical renewals, the renewals must also comply with the bill’s provisions.

In 2002 Hudson Falls Central School District (HFCSD) implemented a similar type of nutrition plan pertaining to its vending machines. Healthier foods and beverages are now stocked in hallways of the district’s schools – an overhaul that led to an increase in revenue. “The Hudson Falls Central School District has been involved in a Coordinated School Health Initiative since 2002,” said Mark E. Doody, Superintendent of Schools for HFSCD. “Our Nutrition Services Department has been an integral part of this comprehensive effort to improve student health and academic achievement. We are very pleased with our new vending services, which follow the guidelines of the New York State Food Service Association. Most importantly, our students and staff enjoy the healthier options, and fully support the service.”

“Students are educated throughout the day and while nutritional education needs to be stressed in the home, this is not always the case,” said Galef. “New York State needs to take responsibility and assess the issue of childhood obesity. By setting a standard of nutritious eating habits within the schools, children can learn and carry out healthy eating each day, making way for nutritious habits that stick with them beyond the school cafeteria.”